The Red Sox aren’t dead yet.
On the verge of their first losing streak longer than five games since a nine-game losing streak during their last-place finish in 2020, the Sox bounced back with a much-needed 3-1 victory over the Cleveland Guardians on Monday night.
It wasn’t their best game ever played, but it was a clean game, their first in a week, and an essential first step on their way towards saving their season ahead of the trade deadline next Tuesday.
“We do understand that you could be a seller, you could be a buyer, it all depends,” said Alex Verdugo, who drove in the eventual game-winning run with a double off the Green Monster in the sixth inning. “We know we’ve got a good team, we’ve got a good group of guys and we can go somewhere. We’re hoping that we just stick with what we’ve got, maybe get a couple of additions and we make a postseason push.”
The takeaways from Monday:
1. The Red Sox didn’t make an error
The Sox snapped a stretch of six straight games with an error. They had lost five of them and allowed poor defense to become the calling card of their fast-sinking season.
With an MLB-high 19 errors in July, the Red Sox have given away outs and made things even more difficult on a pitching staff that is missing three starting pitchers and has just three relievers they can rely on.
But they made all the plays Monday night.
“We played good defense. I think that was the difference,” manager Alex Cora said. “We turned some double plays. Obviously, Jackie made some nice plays in right field, and we grinded at the plate. It wasn’t perfect, but when you’re going through stretches like this, you give yourself a chance playing defense.”
The Sox took advantage of some poor defense on the other side.
With Rob Refsnyder on first base and the game tied 1-1 in the sixth, Alex Verdugo lifted a flyball off the Green Monster that ate up Cleveland left fielder Steven Kwan, who misread the ball off the wall and then tumbled onto the ground trying to chase it. Refsnyder scored all the way from first and Verdugo walked into second with a go-ahead double.
Verdugo scored two batters later on a Christian Vazquez single to make it 3-1.
“It was huge,” Verdugo said. “Obviously, we lost five games in a row and I don’t really think those five games were too close. We got it put to us. But come in here and it’s a Monday, start of a new week, just, hey, what happened in the past already happened. We’re still at .500. We’re still a few games back in the Wild Card.
“Hey, boys, let’s go, let’s start now. We get that these last two weeks have been (expletive), but we’ve got to keep playing. You can’t just pout about it, cry about it, or what happened last week. No, let’s keep playing, let’s play today, let’s get our best chance to win and put us in a good spot.”
2. Finally, a good start
The Red Sox couldn’t buy a decent outing from a starting pitcher over their last six games entering Monday. Sox starters had allowed 29 earned runs in 22 innings (11.86 ERA) in that span.
Nick Pivetta had been going through it, too, with a 13.50 ERA in his previous starts.
But he looked great on Monday, getting his fastball to touch 97 mph while averaging 94 mph, up a little from his previous starts. He generated seven whiffs on the fastball, four more on his signature curveball and another on his slider.
More importantly, he was moving the ball around with ease, using high curveballs in fastball counts and keeping a tough Guardians lineup off-balance all night.
Pivetta went 5 2/3 innings, striking out six and walking three while allowing just one run on an infield single in the fifth.
3. Garrett Whitlock gets the save
John Schreiber has been Cora’s go-to reliever to bridge the gap to the late innings, and it worked once again on Monday night as Schreiber used his high-90s heater and funky arm slot to clean up the sixth inning and throw a scoreless seventh.
Then Cora turned it over to Whitlock, who entered the game having allowed just one hit in four scoreless innings since he returned from the injured list on July 15.
He had pitched an inning Sunday night, but Cora felt comfortable going to him on back-to-back nights for the first time all year and Whitlock made it look easy.
He dazzled in the eighth, then surprisingly went back out for the ninth, despite the Sox’ typical closer, Tanner Houck, warming in the bullpen.
Whitlock handled a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save of the year and first save since April 19.
“He is a weapon, and this is the way we’re going to use him this year,” Cora said. “Having those three guys and then some other guys that are throwing the ball better… Obviously we can do what we did today. We rested Tanner, he’ll be ready for tomorrow, he can go multiple innings and we can play that game.
“Hopefully this is the beginning of something good. It’s a W. It’s a big league W, and you know how I feel about that. We work so hard from 2 o’clock all the way to the last pitch to get that, and we celebrate, but we turn the pgae. We’ve got to be ready for tomorrow.”